DISCLAIMER : I am not a fan of any club, I am only interested in the strategies, counter-strategies, tactics, formations and mind games that go on in addition to what happens on the field.
It was an interesting derby – one of the most awaited games of the English calendar, unfortunately it did not live up to its billing. Here are a my thoughts on where it was won or last.
In the summer of 2013, a certain person named Sir Alex Ferguson (SAF) decided to step down. This was after being at the top of the game for 26 years and that too a giant like Manchester United. This would obviously have repercussions and I think the magnitude of which was probably under estimated by everyone. If people had observed the performances from last season, they would have observed an under performing side that was being used at 110% of their ability throughout the season. SAF was a master at doing this. He was able to do this out of pure fear and also through the aura that he had developed all these years managing a club. When things were not going their way, he was out there barking orders, changing tactics on the fly. When the players looked towards the touchline, it was enough to send shivers down their spine and up their game.
This was badly needed in a game of Sunday’s nature and it was missed. The bottom line is David Moyes in no SAF.
Summer of 2013
When SAF retried, everyone thought United would go and recruit players may be two or may be more and everything would be hunky dory. What happened was embarrassing to say the least. First, the unsuccessful attempt to sign Thiago Alacantara from Barcelona, then the pursuit of Cesc Fabregas who was always a mirage. Although I would not blame United for the pursuit of Fabregas, I believe he was not getting enough playing time at Barca and his representatives probably used this to bargain with Barcelona. I cannot see how someone would make 2-3 bids for s player without encouragement from his representatives. But whatever he did not come. Then the embarrassing deadline day activity. Moruane Fellaini for 27.5 million was an over-priced buy and how he would fit into their team is still a question. One can understand why Moyes wanted Leighton Baines – Evra is aging and Buttner or Fabio or not yet experienced enough in EPL. The Hererra fiasco is well documented and huge embarrassment.
But what United miss is two kinds of players – a creative midfielder someone like Thiago whom they missed out on, Hererra could also fit the bill. They need a destroyer and an enforcer in midfield, the kind whom they missed against Man City. Daniel De Rossi would have fit the bill, but that too ended in a failure.
They are now left (until atleast January) with a mediocre squad and my opinion is that if not all 4 of the names discussed above , atleast 2 of them (Thiago and De Rossi I guess) would have come if SAF was still at the helm .
Tactics, Personnel and Formation
I have been following the EPL since almost a decade now and have seen various tactics, strategies and formation. SAF was nimble with his formations, tactics in EPL and also Europe. Sometimes deploying 4-3-3, sometimes 4-5-1 and also using the traditional 4-4-2 formations. Most of his teams in past relied on blistering counter-attack to hit teams. The other common strategy used by United to good effect was getting the midfielders to quickly distribute the ball to wingers and have enough people in the box by the time they deliver their cross. This system has served the team well.
However over the weekend it was a wrong formation, with the wrong personnel. City had Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, Jesus Navas and Samir Nasri in a great midfield setup. United’s midfield was no match to theirs either personnel wise or tactics wise. City pressed harder, pushed United back, cut off their supply lines and the battle was won in midfield. Alvaro Negredo was the star of the match for me, he ran Vidic ragged and dragged him around which created the space for Aguero to deliver the blows. Man City’s defence was playing high up the pitch because of a lack of pressing from United and space that United afforded them.
Personnel in the United team both on and off the field were a problem. Off the field they lost Rene Muelesteen the dutch master who was technical training coach and also Mike Phelan who may not be the most brilliant tactician around, but still better than many around, atleast the current backroom staff there. Most of what United did wrong on Sunday were things that are practiced, observed and fixed on the training ground. So I doubt whether the quality is there. On the field the formation was wrong, because of the lack of quality in that midfield they had to compensate it with numbers. It should have been a 5 man midfield with Rooney up top. And even the personnel in that midfield was wrong. When Nani did not play on Tuesday against Bayern Leverkusen I thought its because he was starting the derby, I was appalled when I saw the team on Sunday. Kagawa, where is he? People who have watched Borussia Dortmund play would remember the devastating effect he had in the Bundesliga. He was crucial to Dortumnd’s aggressive pressing game and the main supplier to Robert Lewandowski.
Was discussing with a friend and I told him that United would loose by a 3 goal margin and I was proved right because, City took the foot off the pedal at 4-0, else I would have been proved wrong. But the manner of the defeat was bad, even Stoke gave a fight to Arsenal on Saturday.
The writing is on the wall for United, they have to fix things on and off the field pretty quickly. January cannot come faster for them. I would say, they would be happy if they finish in top 4 this season, else Moyes is gone by the end of the season.